If you are a college student in North Dakota who is being investigated on allegations of sexual misconduct, your academic and professional future may be at risk. Colleges and universities are under intense pressure to aggressively pursue all allegations of sexual misconduct among faculty, staff, and students according to federal rules. Failure to do so could result in a loss of federal funding. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education recently changed some rules regarding the investigation of sexual misconduct, which has added more confusion and uncertainty into the mix. As a result, students accused of wrongdoing face higher risks of being denied due process or unduly punished. Here's what you need to know to protect your rights.
Federal Rule Changes Regarding Title IX Protections
In May 2020, the Department of Education (DOE) announced several sweeping rule changes that may deeply affect how schools enforce sexual misconduct under Title IX. This law protects students from discrimination on the basis of sex. The new rules took effect for the 2020-21 school year, with possible far-reaching implications for both accusers and the accused. The most important changes are below:
- Schools must institute a single investigative process for faculty, staff, and students accused of sexual misconduct. This process must include live hearings, and witnesses must be willing to submit to cross-examination or risk having their testimony rendered inadmissible.
- Clarification of school jurisdiction and responsibility. Under the new rules, colleges and universities are responsible to investigate alleged incidents of sexual misconduct occurring at any event or location (on or off campus) where the school exercises “substantial control.” Off-campus sorority and fraternity houses fall under this jurisdiction, but other off-campus housing options do not. Furthermore, the school is not responsible for investigating alleged incidents involving students participating in overseas study programs.
- Schools must have “actual knowledge” to pursue investigations. Colleges and universities are responsible only for allegations of sexual misconduct about which they have “actual knowledge.” Previously, they could be penalized for failing to investigate incidents about which they should have “reasonably known.”
Sexual Misconduct, Redefined
Another key change in the rules involves how the federal government defines “sexual misconduct” under Title IX. Earlier interpretations of the rule defined sexual misconduct broadly as any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. Now, Title IX protections only apply to incidents that fall under one of the following descriptions:
- Instances of sexual assault, dating violence, stalking, or domestic violence
- Incidents of quid pro quo harassment (i.e., faculty or staff attempting to barter favors for sexual acts)
- Unwelcome conduct determined to be “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies someone equal access to education.”
By narrowing the definition of sexual harassment to these categories, the DOE potentially limits the types of offenses that are covered under Title IX. For example, if a student accuses another student of sexual harassment, but it does not specifically hinder the alleged victim's “equal access to education,” it may not qualify as a Title IX offense. "Severe" and "pervasive" can also be expected to fiercely contested because of what is at stake in a Title IX case.
How These Changes Affect North Dakota Colleges and Universities
While schools across North Dakota and elsewhere scramble to adapt to these rule changes—which are designed to afford more protections for the accused—there are at least two other variables that actually pose more risk to students accused of sexual misconduct. Let's discuss these variables a bit further.
First—many schools are now rewriting their own student conduct policies and disciplinary procedures. The Title IX rule changes affect all schools nationwide, but they don't preclude individual schools from adjusting their own policies to compensate for the changes. Many schools are doing just that—revising their policies to grant more protections for alleged victims of sexual assault or harassment.
Second—there are concerns that the new DOE rules may be short-lived. At least 18 states have filed suit challenging the rule changes, and it is widely believed that an incoming Democratic administration would reverse these new rules.
None of this bodes well for students accused of sexual misconduct. For example, a student's alleged offense may no longer warrant a Title IX investigation, but in fact, may still be subject to disciplinary action under newly revised school policies. (Theoretically, the same offense could even be subject to parallel investigations within the school.) Additionally, the confusion and potential conflict between parallel school policies and changing Title IX rules may result in some students being denied due process and unfairly penalized.
The Advantages of Hiring an Attorney-Advisor
Students accused of sexual misconduct have the right to hire an attorney to act as an advisor during school disciplinary investigations. An attorney-advisor is an expert on the most current Title IX interpretations and any policy changes implemented by the school, so you are equipped with the best information to protect your rights. The advisor may also gather evidence and procure witnesses to help with your defense during a live hearing and the appeals process. Not to mention that the involvement of an attorney helps bring more accountability to the school so they are more conscientious about following their own procedures, so you receive due process. In many cases, these added advantages can be sufficient to give the accused a favorable outcome where they might have been unfairly punished otherwise.
College Sexual Misconduct Advisor in North Dakota
If you face school disciplinary hearings for alleged sexual misconduct in North Dakota, you owe it to yourself to make sure your rights are protected and that you have every opportunity to defend yourself. For that reason, you should procure the services of an attorney-advisor as soon as you learn of the accusations against you. The Lento Law Firm has successfully helped countless students facing disciplinary hearings across the country, including in schools in North Dakota. Joseph D. Lento has established himself as a pre-eminent authority on student defense cases and Title IX and sexual misconduct matters, and his extensive experience can give you the advantage that you need to clear your name and protect your career.
Don't let a false accusation of sexual misconduct derail your future. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.
North Dakota colleges and universities where Joseph D. Lento can help as your or your student's college sexual misconduct advisor during investigations, hearings, and appeals include, but are not limited to, the following schools:
- Bismarck State College
- Cankdeska Cikana Community College
- Dakota College at Bottineau
- Dickinson State University
- Fort Berthold Community College
- Jamestown College
- Lake Region State College
- Mayville State University
- Minot State University
- North Dakota State College of Science
- North Dakota State University Main Campus
- Sitting Bull College
- Trinity Bible College
- Turtle Mountain Community College
- United Tribes Technical College
- University of Mary
- University of North Dakota
- Valley City State University
- Williston State College
It is critical to make certain the college sexual misconduct investigation at your North Dakota school is handled properly and that the accused student's interests are protected from as early as possible during the sexual misconduct investigative process. One major reason is because even at colleges and universities where a finding of responsibility for sexual misconduct charges is made at a hearing, the investigation will set the stage for what the hearing panel is provided prior to a hearing (and what the hearing panel will in large part rely on at a hearing), and at schools where the finding of responsibility is made solely through the investigative process, what takes place during the investigation itself will determine whether the accused is found responsible or not responsible for college sexual misconduct charges.
Unfortunately, some students, families, and college employees make the mistake of not taking the necessary precautions as soon as possible when accused of sexual misconduct at college. Some people will mistakenly believe that if they "just explain what happened," their college or university will be fair and impartial and will arrive at the truth. In a perfect world this may be the case, but in a perfect world, sexual misconduct cases would not exist.
Fighting passionately for the future of his clients at universities and colleges throughout the nation for many years, Joseph D. Lento knows how important it is to mount the strongest defense because he understands that an accused's academic and professional future is on the line. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. Joseph Lento is a licensed attorney in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, is admitted as an attorney pro hac vice in state and federal court if needed when representing clients nationwide, and serves as a college sexual misconduct advisor to students and others in academia facing sexual misconduct investigations and Title IX disciplinary cases in North Dakota and throughout the nation. Make certain your or your student's interests are protected - Contact National College Sexual Misconduct Attorney Joseph D. Lento today at 888-535-3686 or by completing our online form.